It was 15 years ago this month that Gallery A3, Amherst’s downtown exhibit space, opened its doors in an effort to use art as a response to the gloom and fear unleashed by the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
That theme — art as community — is being celebrated in March with a combined show, with works drawn from varied members of the artists’ collective. Since opening in March 2002, the gallery has featured the work of some 68 artists, and the new show showcases that variety, with painting, photography, sculpture, prints, and mixed media presentations all in the mix.
The show also incorporates some space at the adjacent GoBerry frozen yogurt shop and the nearby Amherst Cinema to display several pieces by the late Jozan Treston, Galley A3’s founding member and an abstract painter.
Following 9/11, Treston said he wanted to be part of a larger community of artists — and that such a community could also help the town deal with the aftermath of the attacks.
Gallery A3’s “Celebrating” exhibit includes a good amount of abstract work but also some more straightforward photography and painting. Member Marianne Connolly said artists were encouraged to include a work reflecting a response to some personal concern, particularly one that related to the tumult of national and international events.
Photographer Larry Rankin, for instance, presents a wood-backed portfolio of numerous birds, from various songbirds to a penguin and bald eagle. The color pictures run along the edge of the frame, surrounding an image of a dead bird with the caption “Many birds die naturally. But how many die because of our environmental choices and neglect?”
In a colorful and humorous lithograph, Margaret Jean Taylor also stakes out an environmental theme: She depicts a steely-eyed creature, with the head and wings of an eagle and the lower torso of a woman, preparing to block a bulldozer in a forest. A caption in the lower left corner, in large block letters, reads “Industrial Nations’ Exploitation of Tribal Lands.”
A mixed-media piece by Rochelle Shicoff, meantime, was inspired by the bombing of Aleppo, Syria during the country’s brutal civil war. Using acrylic paint on linen with some collage elements, Shicoff offers faces and silhouettes of refugees, as well as a more hopeful symbol: what appears to be a dove, clinging to a branch.
And Robert Markey presents a seemingly straightforward portrait, a rich oil painting of a young girl, perhaps 10 or 11 years old. She’s actually a Cambodian girl living on the streets in her country, one of many children the Ashfield painter has met while traveling around the world to teach kids in schools and orphanages how to paint murals.
“Celebrating” also features a host of artwork not tied to particular issues. In “A Not So Still Life,” Keith Hollingworth offers a twist on a standard format: His framed oil of a vase of flowers has a large conch shell fastened to the painting, obscuring the vase. And Michihiro Yoshida’s acrylic painting “Creation B” almost pulses with color, its flower motif delineated with geometric precision.
Best abstract, or perhaps semi-abstract, photo might be Eric Broudy’s “The Light at the End is Blinding but the Tunnel is Long and Dark.” It’s a self-portrait that he shot from behind with a tripod, a timed release and considerable underexposure, Broudy said in an email. His naked back and blond hair almost seem to vanish into the brightness surrounding him. Paper, paint and charcoal at Town Hall
Across Amherst Town Common from Gallery A3, Keila Ploof is staging a two-month exhibit at Town Hall, from March through April 28. It’s a show that merits a longer look, given its unusual medium.
Ploof, of Orange, creates what she calls “paper art,” using torn-up pages from old books, wrapping paper and other material as an essential building block for her work. She applies the paper to her surfaces with a paint brush, using both paint itself and other adhesives to fix the paper to her canvases and wood backings.
The result is both colorful, richly textured works that can have an almost 3D feel, as well as imaginative landscapes and portraits in which scattered words become an important part of the painting/collage — or can be hidden away unless seen up close.
“Fisherman’s Day Off,” for example, offers a bucolic scene of distant hills, blue sky and scattered clouds, a small lake and trees and bushes, with a solitary figure with a fishing rod. From several feet away, it looks like a pretty conventional landscape, but look closer and one can see words flecked in the foliage of a tree.
“Red Barn,” like the fisherman picture, has a highly textured feel. But here Ploof has made her material from recycled books much more prominent. Whole lines of old text — in different fonts — make up sections of the foreground and background, alternating with layers of color, to give the work a certain other-worldly feel.
In “An Invitation,” Ploof depicts a woman from behind, wearing a loosely fitting dress that exposes much of her back; she’s undoing a rich mane of pinned-up, dark hair. While the figure is painted, the background surrounding her is composed of a latticework of hundreds of strips of paper with words and tiny images, like Roman and Greek statues and a man in an elaborate ruffled collar, circa 1600.
And the modernist “Farewell” uses two contrasting figures to signal the end of a love affair. A fully painted man in evening dress gives a gentle kiss to a woman whose pale shoulder, neck and face are made up almost entirely of scattered words — thousands of them.
It seems almost like a ghost and living person are saying goodbye, a reflection perhaps on the pain love can bring.
Steve Pfarrer can be reached at email@example.com.
“Celebrating” runs through April 1 at Gallery A3. The collective’s website is www.gallerya3.com. Keila Ploof’s show at Amherst Town Hall runs through April 28. More of her work can be seen at bit.ly/2jfNDOR.